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Adrian Piper’s video works on racism are challenging, infuriating and surprising. Surprising because along with their poetic word play, didactic tutorials, and transformations of museum space into a loaded social arena for a society in denial, they also provoke honest and questioning discussions about race long after exiting the exhibition. It’s not often art gets you to interrogate yourself or your liberal attitudes under the guise of critiquing the artist’s work. Piper’s examination of her personal hurts around her blackness open us to the covert nature of racism as well as the more visible manifestations, such as the Rodney King beating. But it is in subtle videos like 1991’s Please, God, with young girls recorded dancing jubilantly in front of a store window, that we get a sense of the yawning cavern of unresolved troubles brewing beneath the bland and nebulous term ‘racism.’ Against the children’s good spirits scrolls a litany of prayers: “God lead them away from self-sacrifice. God help them to disobey. God teach them to fight back. God keep them

Adrian Piper, "What It's Like, What It Is,
#3," four-channel video installation:
video tape/4 monitors/bleachers/
mirrors/lights/central column, 1991.
from learning their place. God protect them from the rage and contempt that will accompany their understanding. . .” It is a prayer that terrifies even as we devoutly wish it to be granted. That’s the razor’s edge of Piper’s best work, when her insights become our own private contemplation (The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown).

Tony DeLap, “The Man Who Walked
Through Walls,” wood, 8 x 8’, 1986.

In a thirty-five year survey, Tony DeLap’s longstanding interest in the intersection of sculpture and painting receives its due. The play of irregular shapes and shadows that move across and behind his freestanding and wall mounted work confounds the minimalist first impression that it makes. At once elegant and quite funny, DeLap’s work stands the test of time by letting the hot air out of the inflated posturing of a type of art known for its aggressive bearing. He knows how to have fun with it--without losing an ounce of precision (OCMA, Newport Beach, Orange County).

Alicia Beach creates large wall installations in which numerous columns of painted wood are arranged on the wall to create an abstract three-dimensional composition. These works are both beautiful and elegant. The colors, mostly subdued tones of pink, orange and blue, are applied in layers that merge in the mind's eye when looking at the work. Although most of the wooden structures are rectangular, some are cut at angles. Thus, some pieces are best viewed straight on, others at an angle. Also on view are Laura Larson's small black and white photographs that depict crime scenes. These works are photographs of dioramas set up for police students to study what to do at a crime scene. Larson photographs her subject in such a way as to obscure where fiction and reality meet, so it is not discernable whether or not what we are looking at is staged (Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, West Hollywood).

Alicia Beach, "3/00," acrylic on
birch wood, 54 x 58 x 6", 2000.

Billy Al Bengston, "Sonny,"
oil on masonite, 36 x 36", 1961.

Billy Al Bengston
is an icon from the 1960's. This current exhibition serves as something of a reintroduction. There are works here both from the past as well as the present. The exhibition presents abstractions from the 1960's and 1970's in which a geometric shape is centered on the canvas surrounded by expressionistic drips or by evocatively glowing ovals. The current work features a heart, placed dead center, surrounded by rectangles of color on both the front and back of each work. This gives the pieces an otherworldly glow (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica).

Robert Peterson, "Red Apples, Bowl, Cloth."

Tom Eckert, Robert Peterson, and John Rise prove that still life as subject is alive and thriving. In traditional still life paintings, for example, a work might depict fruit in a regal looking porcelain bowl. Today, as in Peterson's pastel drawings, we see oranges in a plastic bag. Succulent oranges, lemons, or apples are put in a modern context on a shiny surface of a tin plate, in an ordinary brown carton, or in a glass bowl. Eckert's sculptures are trompe l'oeil images that deal with concealment. In Five Covered Boscs the artist, with great precision, carves five Bosc pears from wood, and then hides them beneath a wooden carving of a satin cover. The cover is abstract and sensual; a shiny white undulating mass hides the objects and provokes thoughts of the known and unknown. Rise's paintings are mystical arrangements pointing to profound universal forces. The artist creates puzzles for us to unravel. In Moonrock Relic Rise deals with the mystical meaning of the Moon, with a tarot card of the Moon, a photo of the astronauts on the Moon, and an Atlas jar containing ancient pyramid shapes in front of a chart of the craters of the Moon. Guest curator Grady Harp and the three artists help us see the eternal nature of the still life and how simply arranged objects can describe aspects of reality (Art Institute of Southern California [AISC], Orange County).

Tom Ekert, "Seven Plus One," o/c, 2000

Recollecting Forward: Ten Years and the New City sets out to explore the architecture and ideas of Eric Owen Moss. Within the limits of the gallery walls it does so in depth and with real intensity. The gallery space itself has been filled with architectural models jutting off the walls, a gray cinder block centerpiece housing even larger models, and a video relayed virtual build-out; all of which has been surrounded by a vast array of sketches. As crowded as that may sound the exhibition unravels wonderfully, providing an inside look at this architect's work. Finished off by an awkward, looming piece of signature-style slumped glass cutting into the gallery space from the corridor leading to the back room, you can't help but pass through a couple of times to inspect and reinspect the details of this exhibition (INMO Gallery, Downtown).

Jessica Bronson's new video work does some funny things with landscape. Departing from a series of moving images gleaned from the aerial filming of coastlines and other idyllic landscape settings, Bronson has turned that romantic trope into another kind of paradigm. Splitting the image through a prismatic lens that mirrors itself backwards in four separate fragments, she turns the panoramic visual trip into a literal kaleidoscope. What is fascinating about the work is how it is visually quite engrossing, and how the remnants of the landscape persist in their translated form. Emptying them of their traditional saccharine halos, Bronson has found a compelling way of psychedelicizing and enchanting the most over-used of naturally photogenic natural phenomena [A concurrent Bronson project, Panamint Tilt, on view at CSU Los Angeles’ Luckman Gallery, had not yet opened at publication time--Ed.] (Goldman Tevis, Downtown).

Lou Stoumen, "Avatar, New York,"
gelatin silver print, c. 1980.
Collection: MoPA

Robert Frank, "Parade--Hoboken, New
Jersey," gelatin silver print, 1955-56.
Courtesy of the Addison Gallery of Art.

A pair of exhibits presents an individual perspective on a complex cultural phenomenon--mid-century America--alongside multiple views of a singularly complex city--New York. New York: New York reads like a Who’s Who of photography. Images by Lou Stoumen, Weegee, Gary Winogrand, Lewis Hine and others elicit a strong sense of the city’s verticality and the fast-paced stream of pedestrian energy that maneuvers through it. The 83 now classic images in Robert Frank: The Americans run the gamut from the everyday to the once-in-a-lifetime, from the crowds of Canal Street, New Orleans to the solitary loneliness in Rooming House, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles. They include the observers and the observed. Viewed in sequence, Frank’s photographs reveal the flip side of the American dream in the 1950s--life as it was lived, rather than imagined (The Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego).

Jusuf Hadzifezovic, "The Fear of Drinking
Water," photograph as part of performance.

Belkis Ayon, "Perfidia,"
colograph, 99 x 82 1/2", 1998.

The artists gathered for Cultural Critics are from completely diverse locations because curator Patrick Merrill set out to find printwork that is both aesthetically savvy and engaging in political content. These artists are not into agitprop, nor are they part of an underground resistance. Only the Bosnian Trio Design group’s Greetings from Sarajevo series of offset lithographs were a product of wartime, and these are very much informed by American Pop Art. Trio affiliate Jusuf Hadzifezovic’s The Fear of Drinking Water appears to be a banal image of a family reunion, but is the result of a complex performance conceived in a highly charged and dangerous political environment. The late Cuban artist Belkis Ayon’s black and white colographs treat the subject of Cuba’s 19th-Century Secret Society of Abakua, an underground resistance movement (to Spanish colonial rule). Images here depict Sikan, a woman who discovered the Abakua, and was murdered by the group to preserve their secret. Argentine Ral Veroni produces polemical images indicting the World Bank, the Argentine government, and other key institutions--all drawn on out-of-circulation currency which he gives away or uses for barter exchanges. Carl Beam is a Canadian First Nation artist whose work is an interplay of icons, depictions of Indians, and images drawn from politics in order to spark “personal responsibility for world events.” (Cal Poly Pomona, W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery, Pomona).

G.R.A.M. is a collaborative collective of four Austrian artists who do not want to be recognized as indi-vidual. Their work, usually photographic, takes its point of departure from American cinema. For their current installation, entitled Innocent Anarchists they have used themselves as models in the course of creating a series of black and white photographs in which they perform slapstick actions akin to something we might see in a "Three Stooges" movie. They fall and trip over each other, throw pies in each other's faces, and get themselves into unpredictable situations for the purpose of the images. The work is totally matter of fact and unselfconscious. It actually seems as though they enjoy performing for the camera; the images that result from their activities end up conveying a charming innocence (Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica).

Sandeep Mukherjee is a recent graduate from UCLA whose first Los Angeles solo exhibition, Redolence, is a stunning debut. Mukherjee, using himself as subject, has created numerous drawing in which his body floats across the page. The drawings at first seem to be monochromatic and empty, and only upon close examination does the drawing as well as the markings to the paper's surface appear. Mukherjee works both sides of the paper, drawing on one side and scoring, folding, and embossing the other, thereby making compositions where the figure emerges from concentric circles or dances amongst the filigree. The drawings both large and small are beautifully executed and a pleasure to look at (Margo Leavin Gallery, West Hollywood).